William Butterfield was born in London in 1814. His parents were strict non-conformists who ran a chemist's shop in the Strand. He was one of nine children and was educated at a local school. At the age of 16, he was apprenticed to Thomas Arber, a builder in Pimlico, who later became bankrupt. He studied architecture under E. L. Blackburne (1833–1836). From 1838 to 1839, he was an assistant to Harvey Eginton, an architect in Worcester, where he became articled. He established his own architectural practice at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1840.
Blue plaque in Bedford Square, London
From 1842 Butterfield was involved with the Cambridge Camden Society, later The Ecclesiological Society. He contributed designs to the Society's journal, The Ecclesiologist. His involvement influenced his architectural style. He also drew religious inspiration from the Oxford Movement and as such, he was very high church despite his non-conformist upbringing. He was a Gothic revival architect, and as such he reinterpreted the original Gothic style in Victorian terms. Many of his buildings were for religious use, although he also designed for colleges and schools.
Butterfield's church of All Saints, Margaret Street, London, was, in the view of Henry-Russell Hitchcock, the building that initiated the High Victorian Gothic era. It was designed in 1850, completed externally by 1853 and consecrated in 1859. Flanked by a clergy house and school, it was intended as a "model" church by its sponsors, the Ecclesiological Society. The church was built of red-brick, a material long out of use in London, patterned with bands of black brick, the first use of polychrome brick in the city, with bands of stone on the spire. The interior was even more richly decorated, with marble and tile marquetry.
In 1849, just before Butterfield designed the church, John Ruskin had published his Seven Lamps of Architecture, in which he had urged the study of Italian Gothic and the use of polychromy. Many contemporaries perceived All Saints' as Italian in character, though in fact it combines fourteenth century English details, with a German-style spire.
Also in 1850 he designed, without polychromy, St Matthias in Stoke Newington, with a bold gable-roofed tower. At St Bartholomew's, Yealhampton in the same year, Butterfield used a considerable amount of marquetry work for the interior, and built striped piers, using two colours of marble.
At Oxford, Butterfield designed Keble College, in a style radically divergent from the University's existing traditions of Gothic architecture, its walls boldly striped with various colours of brick. Intended for clerical students, it was largely built in 1868–70, on a fairly domestic scale, with a more monumental chapel of 1873-6. In his buildings of 1868–72 at Rugby School, the polychromy is even more brash.
Butterfield received the RIBA Gold Medal in 1884. He died in London in 1900, and was buried in a simple Gothic tomb in Tottenham Cemetery, Haringey, North London. The grave can be easily seen from the public path through the cemetery, close to the gate from Tottenham Churchyard. There is a blue plaque on his house in Bedford Square, London.
Butterfield's buildings include:
Keble College Chapel, Oxford
St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia
St Ninian's Cathedral, Perth, Scotland
William Butterfield's original design for the new Anglican cathedral (St Paul's) in Melbourne, Australia
All Saints, Margaret Street, London (detail of interior)
St Mary's church, Brookfield
St Andrew's Church, Rugby
St Barnabas's Church, Horton-cum-Studley
St Mark's Church, Dundela, Belfast
Font of Ottery St Mary Parish Church, Devon
Chalice designed by William Butterfield, 1856–1857 (hallmarked) V&A Museum no. CIRC.521-1962